In the traditional democracies where Sovereignty belongs to the people, exercised thorough their elected representatives, in Islam the Sovereignty belongs to Allah [Qur’an;9:116], “Allah grants kingship [rule] to whom He pleases.”(Qur’an;2:247). The power is exercised by the ruler, elected or chosen by Muslims through consultation (Shura, 42:38) as representative (Khalifah) through Shari’a [Islamic law]. Islamic philosophy is based on the belief that all spheres of life (including hereafter), spiritual, social, political, and economic form an indivisible unity that must be thoroughly imbued with Islamic values. This ideal forms such concepts as “Islamic law” (Shari’a) and the “Islamic state” and accounts for Islam’s strong emphasis on social & spiritual life and duties in society. Even the cardinal religious duties prescribed in the five pillars of Islam have clear social implications therefore; religious authorities have had considerable political influence in the Muslim societies.
Caliphate-A Political Concept: A caliphate is the traditional Islamic form of government, headed by a Khalifah (Caliph), either appointed or elected, who is considered the political leader of all Muslims. The caliphate also incorporates a shura, a body similar to a parliament that represents the will of the people and may elect and advise the caliph. One group of thinkers considers that the concept of Caliphate as a political concept does not rely on any clear evidence from the Sunnah. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) established a state at Medina comprising believers and non believers, he did mention about his successors in rule (Khalifah). Narrated Abu Huraira; The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The Israelis used to be politically ruled and governed by prophets: Whenever a Prophet died, another would take over his place. There will be no prophet after me, but there will be Caliphs who will increase in number.”[Extract from Sahih Bukhari volume.4, Number.661].
The Prophet (peace be upon him) however did not specifically advocate any form of government, or the political entity. This is the reason why the choice of the first five caliphs in Islam took five different procedures. All of them meet the general principle that Islamic government is consultative (shura), practice justice, and establish system of Prayer (Salah) and Zakah (alms, obligatory charity), enjoining good, forbidding evil in line with Qur’anic injunctions at 42:38, 3:159 and 22:41. The era of first four caliphs is considered as an era of Khilafat-e-Rashida [Rightly Guided Caliphs]. The individual character, personalities of first four caliphs and their strict adherence to the tenets of Islam being close associate of Prophet (peace be upon him) made them a role model for others to follow. However no Muslim ruler could ever reach closer to the high standards of ‘Khilafat-e-Rashida’ except Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz (682-720), [also called Umar-II]. The other rulers in Muslim history, who declared to be Caliph, were hereditary kings, using ‘Khalifah’ as title to claim some legitimacy and religious support.
Khilafat- Historic Overview: Though originally, and ideally according to some, a caliphate is a unique entity that unites all Muslims under its rule, there have been concurrent and even competing caliphates at some points in history. The caliphate began after the death of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). The first four successors to that office were chosen by consensus of the Muslim community’s elders and were known as leaders of the believers. After them the caliphate became hereditary. Two principle dynasties, the Umayyads and Abbasids, dominated the caliphate until destruction by Mongols in 1258. The Mamluk sultanate kept members of the Abbasid family as titular caliphs in Cairo until the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. Ottoman sultans were then widely recognized as caliphs till abolition of the caliphate by Atatürk in 1924 on establishment of republic of Turkey.
While the majorities of caliphates have been centered in the Middle East and exercised authority over Muslims around the world, a notable exception is the Caliphate of Cordoba [Spain] that ruled the Iberian Peninsula during the 10th and 11th centuries. The Iberian Peninsula became part of the Islamic Empire during the 8th century, when the Umayyad Caliphate ruled out of Damascus. In 750, the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads in the Middle East, marking the beginning of a five-century dynasty. However, descendents of the Umayyads remained in control of Spain, eventually setting up a caliphate there. Many of Spain’s most famous and beautiful buildings date from the period of the caliphate, including the Great Mosque of Córdoba (Qurtaba).
It should be noted that, although the office of the caliph (Khalifah, one who is successor to the Prophet in rule) is not a spiritual office [First Four Rightly Guided Caliphs, may be an exception being very close pious companions of Prophet (peace be upon him), directly taught and groomed by him], but the institution was imbued with political and religious symbolism, particularly regarding the unity of the Muslim community hence traditionally many Muslim rulers symbolically bore allegiance to the Caliph. The caliph held temporal and sometimes a degree of spiritual authority this does not imply any functions comparable to those of the Roman Catholic Pope. The caliph has no authority either to define dogma or, indeed, even to legislate. He is the chief executive of a community based upon religion, and his primary function is to implement the sacred law and work in the general interests of the community. He himself is not above the law and if necessary can even be deposed, at least in theory. The ruler could not become absolute because a basic restraint was placed upon him by the Shari’a law under which he held his authority and which he dutifully was bound to execute and defend. When, in the latter half of the 16th century, the Mughal emperor Akbar in India wanted to arrogate to himself the right of administrative-legal absolutism, the strong reaction of the orthodox thwarted his attempt. In general, the ‘ulama` (religious scholars) jealously upheld the sovereign position of the Shari’a against the political authority.
The effective shift of power from the caliph to the sultan was, again, reflected in the redefinition of the functions of the caliph. It was conceded that, if the caliph administered through wazirs (viziers or ministers) or subordinate rulers (amirs), it was not necessary for him to embody all the physical, moral, and intellectual virtues theoretically insisted upon earlier. In practice, however, the caliph was no more than a titular head from the middle of the 10th century onward, when real power passed to self-made and adventurous amirs and sultans, who merely used the caliph’s name for legitimacy.
Read More >>> Caliphate: Redundant or Relevant?
God’s rule:Government and Islam
Patricia Crone’s God’s Ruleis a fundamental reconstruction and analysis of Islamic political thought focusing on its intellectual development during the six centuries from the rise of Islam to the Mongol invasions. Based on a wide variety of primary sources — including some not previously considered from the point of view of political thought — this is the first book to examine the medieval Muslim answers to questions crucial to any Western understanding of Middle Eastern politics today, such as why states are necessary, what functions they are meant to fulfill, and whether or why they must be based on religious law. The character of Muslim political thought differs fundamentally from its counterpart in the West. The Christian West started with the conviction that truth (both cognitive and moral) and political power belonged to separate spheres. Ultimately, both power and truth originated with God, but they had distinct historical trajectories and regulated different aspects of life. The Muslims started with the opposite conviction: truth and power appeared at the same time in history and regulated the same aspects of life. In medieval Europe, the disagreement over the relationship between religious authority and political power took the form of a protracted controversy regarding the roles of church and state. In the medieval Middle East, religious authority and political power were embedded in a single, divinely sanctioned Islamic community — a congregation and state made one. The disagreement, therefore, took the form of a protracted controversy over the nature and function of the leadership of Islam itself. Crone makes Islamic political thought accessible by relating it to the contexts in which it was formulated, analyzing it in terms familiar to today’s reader, and, where possible, comparing it with medieval European and modern political thought. By examining the ideological point of departure for medieval Islamic political thought, Crone provides an invaluable foundation for a better understanding of contemporary Middle Eastern politics and current world events.
US/Western Perceptions are Misplaced:
What’s the issue? No one should be afraid of Islam, people love it because it provides, quality, justice and fairness for all. Comparing Iranian Shi’a Revolution with Sunni Islam is a folly. Mainstream Sunni Islam does not follow thedoctrine of Imamate [combined religious, spiritual and political leadership, some what similar to the Popes of old] which is peculiar to Shi’a Islam.
Sunnis believe in Caliphate [represented the political unity, not necessarily the theological unity of Muslims in one person]. Sunni Islam dictates that the head of state, the caliph, should be selected by Shura – elected by Muslims or their representatives. Followers of Shia Islam believe the caliph should be an imam descended in a line from the Ahl al-Bayt, which Khomeni modified to Fiqh-Valayat [Guardianship of the Jurist or Providence of the Jurist (Arabic: ولاية الفقيه, Persian: ولایت فقیه, Urdu: ولایت فقیه, Wilayat al Faqih) ].Hence Sunni Islam is more democratic domination of theocracy as in Iran is neither feasible nor possible.
In Pakistan religious Islamists political parties never got enough votes to form their govt, except in NWFP province, their performance was poor and were thrown out in next election . People only look towards them with the hope of corruption free govt but they prove no different.
Main issue of Muslim countries is to have corruption free good government which should provide security, justice, economic stability, jobs, fair distribution of wealth, eduction healthcare and social welfare. Unfortunately corrupt dictators cling to power with US/Western support, they are hated by people due to corruption and misgovernment.